2004 NFL Pro Bowl: A look back at the highest-scoring Pro Bowl in history

The 2022 Pro Bowl is this Sunday. As we head toward the game, let's remember the highest-scoring Pro Bowl of all time, the 2004 game.

Once upon a time, the NFL’s best players actually played in the Pro Bowl, and the game was a lot of fun. 2004 was during those times. The 2004 Pro Bowl was the highest-scoring game in the event’s history. As we head into this year’s contest, let’s look back at the most exciting Pro Bowl of all time.

The 2004 Pro Bowl

The 2004 Pro Bowl was filled with future Hall of Famers and all-time players. Some of the most legendary players from my favorite era of football played in this game.

From early in the first quarter, this contest was a score-fest. For a game that ultimately didn’t matter, I still remember it as one of the most fun events to watch.

2004 Pro Bowl: First quarter

Daunte Culpepper started at quarterback for the NFC. After a short drive ending in a punt, Steve McNair took over for the AFC. On the very first play, McNair hit Chad Johnson for a 90-yard touchdown strike, setting the pace for the day.

The NFC’s next possession was even worst than their first. They quickly went three-and-out and had their punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown by Ed Reed.

On their third possession, the NFC didn’t complete a single pass but finally got on the board. Penalties and Shaun Alexander accounted for nearly all of their yards, with the Seahawks running back punching in a 12-yard score to bring the NFC to within 7 points.

Following an exchange of field goals by Jeff Wilkins for the NFC and Mike Vanderjagt for the AFC, the quarter ended with the AFC leading 17-10.

Second quarter

The NFC cut it to 17-13 to start the second-quarter scoring, but it was all AFC after that. McNair gave way to Peyton Manning, who hit his Colts teammate Marvin Harrison for a 50-yard touchdown.

After Wilkins missed a field goal, Manning got the ball back and led another touchdown drive, hitting Tony Gonzalez from 16 yards out. The half ended with Vanderjagt missing a 52-yard field goal and the AFC leading 31-13.

2004 Pro Bowl: Third quarter

Trent Green replaced Manning to start the second half. He led the AFC on a drive featuring exclusively Ravens, with Todd Heap and Jamal Lewis accounting for 100% of the yards. Lewis closed out the drive with a 22-yard touchdown run. The AFC led 38-13, their largest lead of the game.

Marc Bulger started the second half for the NFC and promptly went three-and-out. Fortunately, Green had a truly abysmal sequence on the AFC’s next drive. He was sacked on first down, fumbled on second down (but recovered it), and then fumbled again on third down with the NFC recovering. Bulger fired two straight passes to Torry Holt and cut the deficit to 18.

On the very next AFC possession, they turned it over once again. This time, it was Derrick Mason fumbling the ball. Bulger took over at the 7-yard line and found Keenan McCardell for a 2-yard TD on third down to make the score 38-27.

After back-to-back punts, the third quarter ended with the AFC driving to presumably put the game away.

Fourth quarter

The AFC’s drive ended with Green hitting Clinton Portis for a 23-yard TD. With just 13 minutes remaining and a three-score lead, the game surely looked over.

Immediately following the AFC taking a 45-27 lead, a 60-yard kickoff return set up a 33-yard TD pass from Bulger to Alge Crumpler to cut the lead to 11.

After Crumpler’s touchdown, the AFC completely unraveled. Manning fumbled on their next possession. Although the NFC failed to capitalize due to a missed field goal, they got the ball back quickly after Champ Bailey picked off Harrison on a trick play. Bulger led another touchdown drive, hitting Alexander for a 5-yard score. The AFC’s lead was down to 45-40 following a failed two-point conversion attempt.

The AFC decided they didn’t want to let the NFC take the lead themselves and just gave it to them. Manning hit cornerback Dre Bly for a 32-yard touchdown. The problem, of course, is that Bly was not on Manning’s team.

On their next drive, the AFC turned it over for a fourth consecutive possession. Corey Chavous returned the pick all the way to the 2-yard line, and Alexander finished it off to give the NFC a 55-45 lead.

Manning did not go down without a fight. He led a 78-yard drive culminating with a 10-yard touchdown to Hines Ward. The NFC was nice enough to give the AFC a chance to tie the game after Bulger threw a pick. Manning took over with 1:15 on the clock and got his team in range for Vanderjagt to send the game into overtime. Unfortunately, he missed the 51-yard field, and the NFC defeated the AFC in the highest-scoring Pro Bowl of all time, 55-52.

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